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Day 16: Chapter One

The new year is always about new beginnings, and new beginnings start with the first chapter. I first wrote Impulse almost a decade ago. It's gone through so many iterations and rewrites. But what stayed true to the story is RC and her love for cars, specifically her GT500 Mustang. She's a racer in a world ruled by the Mob. And a mob-ruled world is a cruel, often chaotic world. So, without further ado, I present to you, Chapter One:

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The steel tips of my boots click against the white marble. The surface gleams from light given by a massive wrought iron chandelier hanging above. Nothing occupies the cavernous space I stride across except for an ornately carved screen and an oxblood leather chair beyond—where the Bitterblade Mob Boss sits. Five people in Terra One know of his true identity, and I am not one of them. Maybe this is a good thing. Those who know the boss intimately have the tendency to die brutal deaths. Such is the consequence of being within the inner circle of power. I’m content with an outer orbit, as far removed from the center as possible. I race. That is my value to this family. My mentor, Brody, on the other hand, by virtue of being Head of Security, is as close to the boss as it gets. I don’t envy him. He stands to one side of the screen. My gaze scans the rest of the receiving area. As far as I can tell, we three are the only ones in the room. I note the cameras on each corner of the ceiling. And if I’m not mistaken, there are at least a dozen armed men on standby behind doors that blend into the embossed wallpaper walls. One nod from Brody is all it takes to have this room overflowing with the best killers in our region. Knowing how he operates, they are probably the best killers in the entire continent. That being said, they don’t bother me. I drive the line between life and death nightly. On the asphalt, my life is in no one else’s hands but my own.

A couple of yards away from the screen and the silhouette of the man seated behind it, I drop to one knee. My fists rest on the floor, the burnt caramel color of my skin a stark contrast to the white stone. Bowing my head, my long hair as black as a predawn sky spills over my shoulders to pool beside my fists. I take comfort in the tactical knives inside my leather jacket pressing against my ribcage. Their serrated edge can saw through bone in three seconds. I serve the Mob, of course. I have to protect myself. Not that I’m saying I need to in this instance. At least I hope I don’t have to. A meeting with the boss can mean a myriad of things. A majority of them death related.

I steady my breathing by tracing the gray veins on the stone beneath me. In a matter of hours I will be driving up Mount Giga. The exhibition race that will kick off the Impulse Cup is tonight. My palms sweat in anticipation. I’d been in the garage with Screw, my chief mechanic, adjusting the settings on my GT500 all morning. Her compressors have been acting up lately. I can’t have the most important part my life in less than top shape before the Cup. She needs to be ready. Screw said to trust him when I got the call from Brody that the boss wanted a word. Took the words “on penalty of death” to get me to part with my baby.

My eyebrow twitches. I’m here, and no one is speaking. I can’t speak unless spoken to, so… I barely hold in the snort as I await the pleasure of the man I serve. Don’t get me wrong. I’d give my life for the sake of the boss. Everyone in the Bitterblade Mob would. I just have more important things to do than play “guess what the boss wants.”

“RC,” comes the sigh from the man behind the screen. I tense. Whenever he speaks, it’s always with a relaxed tone. He can order your execution sounding like he’s bored out of his mind. I’ve witnessed it. No one rises to the top of the Mob without at the very least having a bloodthirsty nature. In fact, the higher you are the more psychotic you have to be. So, let this be lesson one: to underestimate the boss’s casual tone can literally mean your death. It must get lonely when only five people know what you look like.

I continue to wait. Saying my name doesn’t equate to being given the leave to speak. For all I know he’s merely tasting my name on his tongue. He’s been known to do that. Another sigh then the creak of chair springs. I don’t have to look to know he’s shifting his position. Can we please move this along? I have better things to do.

Despite the impertinent question polluting my head, I know I’d wait all day if it pleased the boss. As Brody once taught me, thoughts can only be dangerous once spoken. I’ve learned to hold my tongue years ago. Speak when necessary. This is lesson number two.

“How are preparations for the Impulse Cup going?” he finally asks—his tone breathy, as if stifling a yawn.

“As to be expected, sir,” I say to the floor. “Screw is currently adjusting the GT’s compression system.”

“I trust you have everything you need?”

“More than I could ask for, sir.” The truth. As the boss’s lead driver, I can ask for the moon in the name of winning a race, and the Mob will move heaven and earth to pull the celestial body down to earth for me. Yet, there is one slight problem. I flinch at the boss’s next words.

“And yet you remain third in the rankings.”

I bite the inside of my cheek until I taste a distinct metallic tang. My rank is not from the lack of trying. The guys ranked first and second are beasts on the road. I swallow and formulate my response.

“This year I will take down Ace and Bedlam for your pleasure, sir.”

Chuckles reach my ears. “As is expected of my driver. I have credits riding on you.”

I’m tempted to say he has credits riding on all the drivers. Hedging his bets. It just so happens he has more riding on me. Betting is encouraged during the races. I’ve heard rumors the credits generated from nights at The Gathering actually fund Mob operations more than the protection credits taken from the citizens of Terra One monthly. Plus, the races are the chief source of entertainment around here. Televised and commentated. All the top families of the Bitterblade Mob have a stable of racers. For some, the races are their main source of income.

I suffer through another round of silence until the boss says, “As you well know, Zamara has reached her majority.”

I grimace, understanding where this meeting is actually going. The boss’s daughter is finally old enough to make her own decisions. This thought scares the motor oil out of me. “My sincerest congratulations, sir. Please extend my deepest regret at not having been able to attend her eighteenth birthday.”

Another chuckle. “You were busy winning that downhill at Mt. Giga against Star. What a grand race. You two fought like feral cats.” I imagine him licking his front teeth. The memory of the race ignited my insides like a spark plug. I still haven’t forgiven Star for scratching my baby in her attempt to pass me at Suicide Curve. If she wasn’t the Underboss’s daughter, I would have slit her throat already. The boss’s second-in-command would not approve of the murder of his child, no matter how much she tests his patience. “That victory paid for the entire overpriced party. I cannot complain.”

Still I continue to wait for the inevitable. Knowing Zamara, there’s one thing she’d ask dear ol’ dad for on her birthday. I grit my teeth until the enamel squeaks. Unfortunately for me, the boss doesn’t stretch out my torment longer than he has to.

“As you know,” he begins as if it pains him to even bring up the topic. “Zamara has been following your career closely. That girl has an unhealthy attachment to you.” I hear the head shake that usually accompanies conversations involving the Mob’s precious first daughter. “She wants to join you as navigator for this year’s Impulse Cup.” My mouth opens to respond, but I quickly close it again when the boss continues. “I’ve told her that she is an adult now. She has the right to make this decision for herself. I know how dangerous the Impulse Cup can be. If the body count from last year is any indication.” What he leaves out is most of the driver fatalities came from Ace and Bedlam battling it out on the road. The most we could do was get out of their way. I still chafed at that. This year will be different. I plan on joining the fray. “So I leave the choice up to you.”

A lump forms in my throat. This is worse than I thought. It’s a classic “doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t” situation. Denying the boss’s daughter is like spitting on the boss’s face. I might as well sign my death certificate now to save the coroner the effort later. Saying yes means I’m putting Zamara’s safety in my hands. I have enough to worry about during the Impulse Cup, adding babysitting to the list is like sugar in the gas tank. Basically, everything goes boom.

“I guess I don’t have to remind you how much I love my daughter….”

I swallow said lump, thorns and all, and make my decision. “Sir, the Impulse Cup is no place for a novice. If I want to win against Ace and Bedlam, I need a navigator who will survive let alone help during key portions of the race. For me to do my job to the best of my abilities, I must respectfully decline having Zamara on my team.”

The atmosphere in the room shifts. The calm dissipates, replaced by a heavy tension thick enough to cut through. I hold my breath. My heart stops. I don’t fear death. I stare the bastard in the face every time I get into my GT. At least, at the speeds I drive, I die quick. In the hands of the boss and his expert torturers is a different story. They can keep me alive indefinitely. And in massive amounts of pain. Then, like streaks of lightning across the sky, booming laughter bounces of the walls. I hold in the instant relief. Laughter is no indication of my survival. I endure until the boss is reduced to huffing chuckles.

“One thing I continue to admire about you, RC, is your balls,” he says between gasps. “You have a set that rivals Brody’s.”

I let the grin slip at the compliment. My mentor sports a wicked scar down the length of his neck for his so-called “balls.” In my mind’s eye, I know the corner of Brody’s lips curl upward a fraction. With all traces of his mirth gone, the boss dismisses me with the reminder of winning this year’s Cup. On my feet, I thump the center of my chest with a fist then turn on my heels for the door, which also blends into the walls. It slides open when I near it.

A scowl forms on my features when I spot the girl standing at the end of the hallway I enter. Her brown hair falls in lush curls down her back and over her shoulders. The strands stop just above the swell of her breasts. The pink of her sweater matches the hue of her cheeks and lips. She studies me with keen eyes the shade of expensive jade. I rake my gaze over the entire length of her body, taking in the tightness of her jeans and the leather boots she stuffed them into. When my eyes return to her face, the pink has turned several shades darker.

My initial intention is to pass by without acknowledging her presence. I’ve been successful at it for years. Sadly, when I reach her, my temper snaps and I slap the wall beside her head. She gasps, leaning against the wall for support, as she looks up at me. I loom over her, inhaling the tantalizing scent of jasmine wafting from her skin. I close my eyes a moment, collecting my thoughts.

When I’m sure I won’t flay her alive, I stare into her eyes and ask, “How dare you put me in that position with your father?” Venom drips from my question. The way her shoulders jerk upward tells me she feels the sting.

She’s trembling as she says, “You wouldn’t have said yes otherwise.”

A savage grin stretches my mouth. I gesture toward the room I left with a tilt of my head. “Who says I said ‘yes’ in there.”

The tip of her tongue darts over her lower lip while sweat dots the upper. “You refused?”

“Zamara….” I exhale all my anger, weak against the wide-eyed disappointment she treats me to. No wonder she has her father, the most powerful man in Terra One, wrapped around her pinky. I won’t deny the beauty of the boss’s daughter. She’s grown into a magnificent woman. For an insane second, I imagine bridging the gap between us for a taste of those plump lips. The image of my head on a spike for “defiling” the first daughter forces me to focus. “The Impulse Cup is the most grueling race of the year. You know all races lead up to the marathon. What makes you think you’d make a worthy navigator?”

Determination enters her eyes. I’m suddenly aware of her body heat and the curves inches from touching mine. She wouldn’t be the boss’s daughter if she didn’t have backbone, I’ll give her that much.

“I’ve studied all your races, RC. I know how you drive better than Mac,” she says, still trembling like the last leaf clinging to a branch against the autumn wind.

The mention of my garage manager/race analysis reminds me of my responsibilities. I step back, creating the space needed to think clearly. I flip my hair over one shoulder and sigh. “Watching my races is different from actually being in the car with me. I’m sorry, Zamara, I can’t be held responsible for your life during the Cup.” I pin her with a withering glare the second her lips part. “I mean it. This year I plan on taking Ace and Bedlam down. I can’t do that with someone like you.”

“Someone like me?”

“Inexperienced.” I throw the word over my shoulder as I head for the bank of elevators at the end of the hall. It’s better this way.

For the entire ride down to the lobby, I convince myself of the merits of my decision. Zamara is better off staying away from the races. Considering her station, the most she can do is watch. The cab doors part with their distinctive ding. I step out into the bare lobby but for the front desk and a round table with a single stem of orchids curling out of a clay pot. I pause to rub the white velvet petals. Yes, I made the right decision. The boss wouldn’t have let me leave if he’d really been adamant about Zamara tagging along.

Across the street, over at Punishment Square, a gathered group catches my attention. The wide space the boss uses to teach those who have wronged him a lesson was empty when I stepped into Bitterblade HQ. I glance at the austere woman manning the front desk. She seems just as curious, but her duty to her post keeps her behind the desk.

My own curiosity begging cessation, I head for the revolving door. Once outside, a gust of wind whips my hair into my face. I pause, flicking the strands into place behind me. Then, looking right and left, I cross Main Street into Punishment Square. In my mind, I sift through the announcements I read this morning. No mention of a public punishment. The boss always makes a spectacle of those displayed in the square. Since I don’t recall any such news, the crowd gathered baffles me. The group stands unmoving and staring at the ground. I push my way to the front and immediately cover my nose and mouth. The air is putrid. The fetid stench of decay clogs my nostrils, hot as it enters the lungs. Without thinking twice, I take out my phone and press on the first name in my contacts list. The person at the other end picks up on the first ring.

“Brody,” I say, my voice muffled by my arm, “send a cleanup team to Punishment Square.”

On the tiled floor lies a naked guy, spread out. His mocha skin pale, lips blue, a fog in his once hazel eyes. Someone pulled out his entrails from a gaping hole on his stomach. No blood pooled around him despite the carnage. What catches my attention the most is the word carved across his chest.

“Hubris,” I say into my phone.

The line immediately goes dead.

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If you'd like to read more, and support an author's hard work, please take a moment to pre-order the book ahead of it's March 3, 2020 release. Thank you!

Pre-Order Links:
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Harmony Ink Press
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Day 15: The Power of Prayer

And the power went out. Here I was, ready to post the first chapter of Impulse and the power went out. It had been raining all day. Now, normally, a little rain won't cut the power, but if you've been following my posts you'll remember that I wrote about the volcano erupting. Well, since the eruption, my mother has been praying for rain. Her reasoning? So that the rain will help wash away the ash. This seems reasonable since we couldn't even move around without wearing masks to protect ourselves from the ash being kicked up by the wind and cars.

So, after a couple of weeks of prayer, it finally rains. And not just a slight drizzle. But not a rainstorm either. We're talking about a moderate rain shower. The kind that will indeed wash away the ash. You know what else moderate rain does? Well, since the volcano has been spewing ash, the stuff gets everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

One of the places the ash decided to settle on are the breakers that connect the powerlines along poles. Fun fact: When ash gets wet it becomes heavier than it once was. Well, the ash on the breakers got wet, got heavy, and proceeded to cause the breakers to pop. Every area where the rain fell didn't have electricity for a night and most of the day.

That is the power of prayer, kids. I'm not kidding. My mother has always been a prophetic woman. Every time she says something, it inevitably comes true. She says it's because her intentions are good. When your intentions are good, prayers are granted. My mother does not have a mean bone on her body. She has a sharp tongue, though. But never a mean bone. So when she prayed for rain with the intention of washing the ash away, God gave her rain.

Now, I know this all sounds farfetched. Also, it can always be just a coincidence. But that's not how I live my life. I'm a huge believer in a larger force that's out there. To give it a name, I'd call it God. The Universe. It's there, willing to help. We just have to be open to it. Some people call it the power of manifestation. You think about it. You speak it. You work toward it and it will happen. Oprah is a big proponent of this. Spirituality is another name for it.

At the end of the day, the power of prayer harms no one. In fact, it can only give you hope. Calm some of the anxiety. Help you let go of the anger, guilt, whatever negativity you might be feeling. Why is meditation so big now? It's just another form of prayer. Quieting the mind and becoming in tune with the bigger force that is out there. You should try it sometime.

Day 14: New Release

I have a new book coming out this year. The release date is March 3, 2020. It will be under my pen name Eva Muñoz and Published by Harmony Ink Press. The title is IMPULSE, which combines my love for cars and murder-mysteries. High-octane races combined with sexually charged scenes.

This is the first time that I wrote a bi-sexual character. RC isn't afraid of showing how she feels and who she feels them for. She's strong and has her own mind, but she is also inherently flawed. Her single focus is to win the Impulse Cup, the most grueling race in Terra One even when her fellow drivers are being murdered left and right.

This book is years in the making and a complete departure for me. The tone is different. The voice is different. This is why it's under a pen name.

I think I'm more nervous about this book coming into the world than all my other books combined. It took a lot for me to write this book. You will see my love for cars and racing. You will also see a different side of me as a writer. A darker, grittier side.

In connection with the release, I will showcase the first few chapters of this novel in the coming days. It is already available for pre-order, so I will leave the links at the end of this post. I hope that by reading the sample chapters you'll be compelled to want to read on.

Having lost my dad in August of last year, I decided to dedicate this book to him. He loved cars. He's who I get it from. He is also the single most loving person that I know. I miss him every day. Every damn day. My goal is to live my life in such a way that continues to make him proud of me.

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Pre-Order Links:
Amazon
Harmony Ink Press
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Day 13: Shane Dawson

For years, I never thought much about YouTube. I thought it was just a place where people can post their videos. I never knew about the different content creators on there and the different types of videos being posted by so many creative individuals. One such person, and really my introduction into the world of YouTube, was Shane Dawson.

I first started finding an interest in watching YouTube videos from the Top5s channel. Mostly paranormal stuff. Do you see where I'm taking you? The algorithm figured out how much I enjoy all things supernatural that it eventually suggested Shane's conspiracy videos. Oh boy, what a deep rabbit hole that was. There was something about Shane's personality that drew me in. He's quirky and funny and self-deprecating. I loved him.

I didn't stop until I watched every single one of his conspiracy videos. I even show one in particular to my Grade 11 class as part of their curriculum for Reading and Writing. The way their faces light up is the same way I felt and continue to feel when I watch one of Shane's videos.

Today, he released some of the deleted scenes from his The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star series on his new ShaneGlossin channel. Even at a little over 30mins, the scenes were such a joy to watch. There is nothing that he does that I won't follow from this point forward. I'm anticipating what he'll post next. There are rumors that he wants to shoot a horror film. I'm so down for that.

In fact, I'm such a fan that I'm saving up to buy his lip set. All the lipsticks. The conspiracy pallet is beautiful, but I'm not really someone who puts on eyeshadow so not really for me. But the liquid lips? Sign me up. Especially the Are You Filming shade. What a beautiful shade of red.

I'm so happy for Shane and the success he's had and will continue to have. He seems like such a genuine person. I hope, one day, I get to meet him. I hope my writing will eventually lead me to get to sit down with him and chat. As a fellow creator, I want to learn more about his creative process and how his mind works.

I'm also so happy that he's getting married this year and that he's focusing more on himself. I'm doing the same. Not the getting married part. Not for me. But the focusing on myself and what I love doing, that's what this year is about. Here's to watching more videos and maybe creating some of my own. Stay tuned. 

Day 12: Center

Writing always gave me comfort. A sense of calm that I can't get from anywhere or anything or anyone else. Writing has been a constant in my life since I discovered it in my sophomore year of high school. I've told this story so many times, I don't even know which parts are true and which parts are not. Everything is conflated into one another.

What I do know is I grew up not having any interest in reading. This is a major setback of any writer because to be a writer you must be a reader first and foremost. As much as I'd love to say that I began writing at a young age, I mean younger than high school, I cannot. I was the girl who borrowed books from the library in grade school and pretended to read them just so I would be named bookworm of the month. In actuality, I was sent to remedial classes in reading. Only to find out that the reason why I had such a hard time reading was because I'm dyslexic.

My English teacher at the time, a cruel woman who shouldn't be made to teach grade school students but unfortunately does, didn't seem to understand that about me. Instead, I was made to stand in class when I couldn't answer a question to her satisfaction. I don't even mind that. It was par for the course when I was growing up. Teachers made you stand, especially the bitter ones.

Anyway, I only started loving to read when I reached high school. It was like destiny sat me down, gave me a book, and said, "Here, read." And I did. Writing followed a year later. I remember the writing assignment. I remember being praised for it. I remember typing up a storm. First on my mother's typewriter. Then on my father's electric typewriter, which he used to eventually write his autobiography. Then on my first computer. I remember punching holes along the side of the pages and binding them together with fasteners between two sheets of scented paper. Then I would bring them to school the next day and my classmates would read them.

All my stories were romance. May/December. Genderbending. Supernatural. Paranormal. You name it, as long as the characters fell in love, I tried writing it. I even wrote my first LGBTQ story involving the four seasons. Winter and Summer (both guys) ended up falling in love. The Gods did not like that so they put Spring and Autumn in between Winter and Summer to ensure that they will forever be apart. I think I was a junior when I wrote this story.

When I look back, the happiest I've ever been was when I was writing. No matter where I am in the process, as long as I was writing, I was myself. The times I wasn't myself were the times I wasn't putting in the time to write. For the past couple of years, especially last year, I hardly sat down to write, and when I did it was so half-hearted that I might as well not have done any writing at all. It was the worst.

No, I've been putting in the hours. I found a groove that I'm delighted in. I'm staying away from any social media. And it is divine. It's just me and my writing. I even have time to write this post, that's how in tune I am with my writing again.

This year and all the years moving forward, I will fight tooth and nail for my writing time. This takes priority above all else. Hell, I wrote my debut novel while nursing my mother back to health in the hospital. I lost that commitment along the way. Never again.

Day 11: Emotional Roller Coaster

School is out for another week. Some schools won't reopen until after the end of the month. All for safety reasons. Teachers are asked to report in order to help clean the school. Get the classrooms ready for the students.

That's today.

Then, by the afternoon, the north side of the island the volcano sits at collapses. The tremors are getting stronger. Earthquakes are still happening. The danger zone has been expended, prompting forced evacuations in eight more towns.

Just when we started to hope that the volcano was settling down, it starts acting up again and we're all on our toes. Teachers don't want to repost in because of health reasons. I see where they are coming from. One said, "What good is it to report now when there are no students? What happens when we get sick by the time that the schools finally open for students?"

First, we're up. Then, we're down. This holding pattern is making everyone crazy.

The only one not crazy? My mother. She's calm through all of this. And optimistic, which I greatly appreciate because I have the tendency to prepare for the worst. I have a worst-case-scenario kind of thinking. Not good. Not good at all. But you can rely on me in a disaster.

I wonder how long this will be? The waiting. The will it or won't it? Some people are saying, "It should just erupt already and get it over with." I get where this mindset is coming from as well, but what that person isn't thinking about is the faultline that runs the middle of where we live. It's a ripe faultline too if the people in the know are to believed. Scientists who can't really predict anything because nature is unpredictable, which adds to the frustration of the reports who only want factual, concrete answers to their questions. To anyone's questions really.

And here I am thinking, did I will this into existence? A week before the eruption, I woke up pretty much in tears because all I really wanted was time to focus on my writing. Time to do what I love most. Now I have that time. Did I will it? All I know is I'm getting some writing done and I feel good. Grounded. At peace with myself. A feeling I haven't felt in two years. TWO YEARS. So, yeah, maybe I did will this into existence.

Day 10: Cleaning Day

As we remain in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Taal will decide to quiet down or release an angry surge of lava and debris, we try to put our lives back together as best we can. That starts with cleaning. Ashfall is a tough adversary. Besides the dust everywhere, you have several things you need to contend with.

First, the roof. Ash, when accumulated over time, is heavy. Don't believe the movies. Once there is enough ash on your roof, the structure can collapse because of the excess weight. Your greatest enemy when dealing with ashfall on a roof is rain because precipitation creates a cement-like substance that makes it virtually impossible to remove without damaging the roof.  Oh, and before I forget, gutter. They are hell to clean when full of ash.

Once you're sure that your roof won't collapse on top of you while you sleep at night, you start with the garden. Plants need sunlight, we learned this in school. Ash covers all the leaves, causing the plants to die. This is where water can be your friend. It washes away the ash and all your plants are happy again.

Then there's the car. Ash is acidic. It can damage the paint and cause the car to rust. Washing the car down is a daily occurrence when there's ashfall. When you have to drive around, the car inevitably gets covered again and again and again. It's not like you can just stay home. You have a life to live. Hence, daily car washing. Car washes are making a ton of money off of this.

Cleaning the inside of the house isn't as tough if you made sure to keep your windows closed during the heaviest of the ashfall. Vacuuming is involved and lots and lots of dusting. These two chores are my least favorite but are essential. There's something about starting the year cleaning out your room. Everything is organized. I'm glad I did that because now that I have to dust and vacuum, the task is much easier.

We're crossing our fingers that Taal will go back to sleep. A bigger eruption will not be good for anyone. Especially now that we just finished cleaning the house. (Okay, take the last part as humor and not in any way an insult to the people who are currently unable to go home because they live within the danger zone.)


Day 9: Post-Apocalyptic

The past few days have been a surreal experience. Sunday, my brother celebrated his 31st birthday. We left the house to have lunch. On our way home, a volcano erupted. How weird is it that you can go about your everyday life without a care about anything else but what you have to do that day then the universe decides: Calamity time!

The funny thing about disasters, no one expects it to happen, it just does. Suddenly, you’re driving home through ash rain. You can’t hardly see out of your car’s windshield. The air reeks of sulfur. You close all your cats into the house. The cateo is off-limits because of the falling ash. You go to sleep only to wake up to a couple of inches of black ash covering everything. Your car. Your driveway. The road. Every time a car drives by, the ash is kicked up into the air again. This forces you to wear a mask whenever you venture outside.

Then the power goes out. Even if this is an inconvenience, all the food in your fridge going to waste as the days stretch on, you are reminded of the fact that other people have it worse. There are people who are currently in evacuation centers with only the clothes on their backs because they were forced to flee in a hurry. There are places with no electricity and running water. All the establishments are closed, even the gas stations. The situation almost becomes an every-man-for-himself. Thank God for kind volunteers.

I’m grateful for all the donations coming in. Food and water are always a staple of donations. Clothes too. But what most people forget are a few essentials like sanitary napkins and diapers. These are usually an afterthought when it comes to donations, yet they are needed badly.

Speaking of afterthoughts, my heart goes out to all the animals that were left behind. I know a majority didn’t intend to leave their animals. The evacuation happened so fast, there was little time to think. I’m grateful to all the men and women who risked their lives to go back for the animals and having them from imminent danger. My students know this. I am more concerned about animals than people. People, if they are not being idiots, can save themselves. Animals, especially if they have been domesticated, have no hope of surviving on their own.

Right now, the volcano seems to be calming. We are all on a holding pattern. Classes are still suspended. PHIVOLCS says if the volcano remains calm until January 26, it will lower the alert level. We are all hoping for this to happen. There is still great unrest around the crater, meaning earthquakes. These tremors show the presence of magma. Until those stop, and the other factors like fissures opening subside, they can’t lower the alert level, which means the danger of a massive eruption is looming over us all.

Day 8: Volcano

A volcano erupted on my bother's birthday. Yesterday, my mom and I were at a reunion, reliving memories. Today, we're at home watching ash fall get thicker.

About two decades ago, Mount Pinatubo erupted. That was unexpected. No one even knew that the volcano was active. It was asleep one day and awake the next. I remember ashfall reaching all the way to our house, which was more than 200 kilometers away.

Today, I remember waking up after an 11-hour sleep because driving home yesterday was hell. Then we hurried to my brother's place, picked him up, and had a great lunch at his favorite buffet. When we were driving home, that was when we found out Taal Volcano was erupting. We could see the plume of smoke and we were driving toward it because we live close by.

By the time we got to my brother's place, we were already in the middle of ash rain. I could bearly see through the windshield and I was running out of water for my whippers. Cars coming from Tagaytay were covered in ash. It's a surreal sight.

Classes have been suspended, of course. It smells like rotten eggs outside. All our windows are closed. Every time I peak out of the cateo, the black ash is getting thicker. The alert level has already been raised to four, which means actual lava and debris are going to spew out of that volcano within hours. Not days, since the escalation is too fast. We went from Alert Level 1 to 4 in a matter of hours. The last level is 5.

Pray for us.

Day 7: Reunion

Today is one of those days when I have to wake up while the moon is still high up in the sky. I mean, really high up. My cats were confused as to why I was already up and about when we had just settled in for the night. Add to there confusion the fact that I'm already feeding them so early. They happily ate the bowls of food, because cats. Then I dressed in my fancy new blouse and skirt combo, slipped on my favorite Docs, and removed the curlers in my mother's hair. We drove off soon after hiding the curlers from the curious kitties.

Drove over 200 miles just to be sitting at the lobby of a cheap hotel while my mother meets with her classmates. I don't mind being at the lobby for the duration. I have my headphones on and I'm ready to write. The WiFi is decent. I've been fed a combination of spaghetti and waffles. I'm good.

My mother is attending her 40th class reunion. She hasn't seen her classmates since she graduated from high school and married my father soon after college. I think it's a little weird for her to be back where she came from, re-meeting people she'd spent four years of her life with enclosed within the walls of a classroom. She was all smiles though, so I'm happy for her.

In the Philippines, we have what is called a Star Section in school. Or also known as Section A. This is the class where all the smart students go. The lowest grade in this class is 90%. Get anything lower than that and you get bumped to a lower section like B. By this logic, the last section is the well . . . you get what I mean.

To say my mother is smart is an understatement. She's a phenomenal woman and I hope her classmates see that. Pictures to follow on my Instagram later.

I'm never much for class reunions. I never attended my 10th-year high school reunion. One, I haven't proven anything to myself. Two, I hated high school. Why should I be rubbing elbows with people who didn't particularly like me and who, in return, I didn't like? I've since returned to my alma mater on an official capacity as a published author. I was even asked to give a commencement speech once.

For me, it's been twenty years since I graduated from high school. Will I attend my 40th reunion should there be one? Maybe not. We'll see.

Day 6: Truth in Death

It's been a little over four months since my father passed away. I was the one with him when he took his last breath. He was 90-years-old.

He died at home in his sleep, peacefully. I remember my mother was away, running some errands. We would take turns caring for him. He had been at the hospital for a week with pneumonia. Problems with his lungs had always been what plagued my father and ultimately it was what took him. Not even cancer could do that.

The biggest space for his hospital bed was the dining room, so I had been editing my newest book at the table across from where he lay. He had been so active for the entire day. He insisted on tidying up the clutter that had become of our dining table, which of course my mother had done for him. Then, when she left, he asked me for a razor because he wanted to shave. I refused to give it to him because he might accidentally cut himself. So, instead, he mimicked shaving his face.

When that was done, he asked for a toothbrush. I saw no harm in helping him brush his teeth. My father always prided himself on being clean. He always smelled so good. So, I helped him sit up in bed, handed him a toothbrush with a dollop of toothpaste on it, and held the spit bowl and cup of water.

Little did I know at the time that this ritual of cleaning himself was his preparation for passing on. Even in death, my father wanted to be clean. Needed to be clean.

He's in my thoughts because was at a cremation yesterday. His cousin had passed away last Sunday. My aunt told my mother that they were all going one by one. It's a sad thought, but a true one. We are all going one by one.

You can never be prepared for the passing of a loved one. Even when you see the end. Even when you know that it is inevitable. They may have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or they may have reached the end of their life. Even when you know it's coming, it still takes you by surprise.

What grieving my father has taught me is how important to treasure every second of life. We don't know what happens after death, but I'm a firm believer that at the end of my life, I will see all those I have lost along the way. We will all meet again as our perfect selves and truly live happily ever after. 

Day 5: Strength through Faith

In the Philippines, today is referred to as Three Kings. This day, the second Sunday of January, effectively ends the four-month Christmas celebration. If you think you celebrate Christmas hard, you should visit the Philippines.

Today marks the time the three kings followed the star to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus and present him with three gifts. Frankincense. Gold. And Myrrh.

I grew up Catholic. To date, I've been baptized three times. Wait till I write about that and the three reasons for the baptisms. Anyway, I wanted to write a little about how having faith can give you strength.

I believe I wouldn't have survived last year if it wasn't for my faith. God was there with me every step of the way, which helped me hold on even when all I wanted was to give up. Does having faith mean you can't lose your temper? Hell no. Even Jesus lost his tempter at the temple. Getting mad is part of who we are as people. It's what you do afterward that counts. 

When I was going through my trials last year, I always thought about Job. His story is one of the most interesting in the old testament of the bible. Job was a faithful man and because he had faith he was blessed. This was during the time when animal sacrifices were made. Today, we make offerings to the church in simpler, less bloody ways.

The story goes that the Devil came to God and asked for someone he could test. Naturally, God offered up Job. He told the Devil he can do anything to Job besides kill him. Long story short, Job lost everything. His friends were no help whatsoever during this time because all they did was inflict their insecurities onto Job, basically convincing him to lose his faith. The main question is: How can you be faithful to a God that took away everything from you?

There were days last year when I was barely hanging on by a thread. What kept me from truly losing myself was the thought that what is taken away is returned tenfold. Suffering ends. Rebuilding can happen. There is always a tomorrow. There is always a new chance.

Without faith, I would have truly not had anything. Job's continued faith despite all his hardships is what allowed him to continue living. He even held on to the point where God asked him to pray for his friends and only then will everything be as they were and more. Imagine that? The true test of faith. Before you can truly receive, you must give. That is the true strength through faith.

Day 4: Social Media Diet

A couple of weeks before 2019 ended, I took stock of my life and why I didn't have any motivation to write. Throughout my life, writing has always been there since I discovered it in high school. I had an off-and-on relationship with writing before I decided on a career path as an author. When I didn't write, I discovered I wasn't in a good place mentally. There is a correlation between my mental state and my creative process. I'm my most calm and even when I'm writing.

Rewind to 2019. Barring all the horrible things that happened, I wasn't writing. Of course, being in an almost constant state of grief became detrimental to my process. I had no motivation at all and my self-doubt was at an all-time high. Good luck getting me to think anything that came out of me during that time was anything but trash. To say I was crippled was an understatement.

Fast-forward to December. I've come to realize that I was looking at my phone and social media more than what I considered healthy. Instead of focusing on what I loved best, I was focusing on something that isn't helpful at all. More often than not, because I'm sensitive, I see the negative more than the good. The microaggressions. The passive-aggressiveness. The subtweets they don't think you see. The insinuations. Whatever. It was all there and wasn't doing me any good.

So, I decided to take a huge step back at the end of the year. At first, I thought about deleting my accounts altogether. My lovely agent talked me out of that insane decision. I thought about my situation some more because if I let my accounts lay dormant then it's just like deleting them. Surely there has to be somewhere I can exist that doesn't screw with my mental health. That's when I realize Instagram can crosspost on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. The minute the idea entered my mind, I deleted my Twitter and Facebook apps on my phone.

It's been three weeks of just living on Instagram and I've never been happier. I'm writing on a daily basis. I'm getting my groove back and more. What a huge difference a social media diet makes. I've always wondered how celebrities who didn't have any accounts at all did it. Now I understand and I don't think I'll ever go back.   

Day 3: Self-Care

In this day and age, it's easy to forget about ourselves. We work to the point of exhaustion. We sit in traffic all day. Stress is at an all-time high. We're not getting enough sleep. We are just not making time to take care of ourselves.

Going to the salon is my happy place. I've always been adventurous about changing my hair. And thank God for having hair strong enough to withstand what I've put it through over the years. When I was younger, I used going to the salon to relieve stress. People close to me knew when I went through something because the next day I would have a new hairstyle. To say I've tried it all . . . well, I have.

I am no stranger to dying my hair a multitude of colors. Specifically, I'm attached to the color red. Last December 15, 2019, I believe my colorist has given me the kind of red I've been wanting over the years.

I was happy. Ecstatic, even.

My mother was not.

My mother is the kind of conservative that tends to bully you into submission. She badgered and badgered me until today I gave into having my hair colored a darker shade.

Who am I to complain? One, I get to go to the salon. Two, I get to have my hair colored. Three, I don't have to pay for a thing. As anyone who has their hair colored, this process is not cheap. I got myself some free self-care and I'm totally happy with it.

I'm giving props to my colorist. Faye gave my mother and myself what we both wanted. She gave my mother a darker color while keeping my artistic side alive by giving my hair indigo/violet undertones. It's glorious. And we grinned at each other the entire time. My mother approved and I get funky hair. Everyone is happy.

Make this year about yourself. Make time to decompress. To breathe. To recharge. Give yourself the time to sleep. Give yourself the care you need. At the end of the day, if you destroy yourself in the process, what are you doing all of this for?

Day 2: Appreciating Beauty

Today, I woke up to clear skies and the most beautiful golden sunlight. I took a deep breathe in and smiled. There's something about life that makes us forget the beauty within it. We get caught up in all the negativity in the world that we forget to appreciate the little things, the beauty in all the beastly.

I looked up at the sky and saw all the possibilities that I've been forgetting because I was too busy focusing on all the pain and suffering. On all the bad when there can be so much good too. I forget that about how much joy my babies bring me, especially when they snuggle beside you in bed.

As much as I didn't want to leave the house, I had to because I needed to help my mother with some government stuff involving my dad's pension. We were wondering why it hadn't come in yet. My mother was starting to stress out, and when she gets stressed, she gets negative.

The woman that helped us the last time . . . well, she was clearly not helpful at all. The great things about having faith? God steers you in the right direction.

As we waited for our number to be called, the unhelpful woman took her lunch break. The first stroke of the divine. When it was finally our turn, the woman we came up to knew right away what the problem was. Of course, this is the government we are talking about, so much paperwork had to be filled out. We found out that the account number had been correct, but the person encoded the wrong bank name. Hence the pension could not be transferred properly.

This situation could have gone the nasty route, which my mother was already headed towards. As frustrating as the situation is, I chose to stay calm. I did not stoke the fire building in my mother. I filled out the forms and listened to what the woman had to say. I was thankful that she was able to help us. I saw the beauty in the situation instead of the beast.

Of course, there is much suffering in the world that we cannot ignore. Being aware must drive us toward ending that suffering. But that does not mean that we should be blind to the beauty that this world has to offer as well. As they say, "Life is too short." Why must we spend our time dwelling on the negative? Why must we stay within suffering when we can look up at the clear blue sky, take a deep breath, and smile instead?

Day 1: Living With Gratitude

There's nothing like the beginning of a new decade to bring some new perspective into your life. I'm not shy about sharing my thoughts on faith and kindness and how we can all be better human beings to one another. Listening to podcasts and watching TED talks have helped through the years. Now, I want to share all that I've learned along the way.

Living with gratitude seems like a simple concept, but we are human and it is our prerogative as humans to complicate simple matters. As the years pass and I gain experience, I've come to realize that I must be more thankful for what I have and not worry too much about what I don't have.

Because of the busy lives my mother and I live, we eat out a lot. Dinner we usually skip because we can't sleep with heavy stomachs. What you might not know is my mother is Kapampangan at her core. She was born and raised in a small barrio called Sapaong Bato, which literally translates to Stream of Stones. One of the things a Kapampangan is good at is cooking. My mother is an excellent cook and one of my favorite dishes that she prepares is called Sinigang, which is sour soup.

This iconic Filipino dish can be prepared in many ways and can have a multitude of ingredients. This is why every household has their own version of this dish. At its basic essence, Sinigang gets its sourness from tamarind. This fruit is crushed into a fine paste and forms the stock of the soup. Other fruits that can be used as a base are calamansi, guyabano, bayabas, and kamyas. A root crop called Gabi can also be used as a base which will give the soup a cloudy appearance. My mother particularly loves Sinigang sa Gabi, but I don't. I like mine old school, Sinigang sa Baboy. I find pork belly to be the best meat for this dish. Others also use seafood like Bangus and shrimp. The main vegetable for Sinigang is kangkong.

I don't know if it's because it's the new year, but my mother decided she wanted to cook Sinigang. This choice completely made my day. I've been missing her cooking. It was as if she has read my mind. She even made the Sinigang extra sour. The kind that will make your lips pucker. Just the way I like it.

Cooking this dish is nothing big. My mother used to prepare it on a weekly basis when I was a child. But I didn't forget to show my gratitude. I was thankful for her thoughtfulness and her expert hands. Eating this dish made the first day of this new decade all the more special.

What are you thankful for today? 
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